Labels

Hi guys, its not my week to post on the blog but I found this other blog post and I couldn’t resist sharing it with all of you because I thought it was awesome and really pertained to what we talked about in class Thursday. If you have time give it a read!

http://thoughtcatalog.com/2013/teens-coming-out-speech-raises-questions-about-labels/

Kathleen Hennessy

Advertisements

Bad publicity

Valentine outlines the historical definitions of ‘transgender’ in conversation with and against homonational discourses about gay respectability. According to Valentine, the identity category ‘transgender’ is able to “absorb the gender transgression” associated with homosexuals, especially gay organizations invested in the formal legal equality and liberal rights that seem to follow normative gender performance (64). The dominant legal logic seems to be: If they’re like us, they can be treated like us. Gender-normative gays have made clear that trans* folks are not-us, which raises the question of who us is and can be.

For all Valentine’s spot-on skepticism about exclusionary homonormativity and the gender policing involved in the reproduction of the gay/trans* binary, he doesn’t address the normativizing potential within the trans* community itself (at least not in this intro). 

I know Chaz Bono is so 2000-and-late as far as objects of study go, and disastrously token for trans* political discussions, but: He seems like a good representation of bad representation. 

Bono got himself in a bit of identity politics hot water for his disorder-ly narrative and transmisogyny. He self-pathologizes his childhood experiences as a birth defect and naturally attributes his misogyny to T. He’s entitled to self-represent his life as fit, but pop media have elected him the trans* representative. Speaking the lived truths of his experience is one thing, speaking publicly on behalf of trans* folks everywhere is another. The danger lies in the seductive accessibility of Bono’s identity (gender-binary-conforming, misogynistic, pathological) to dominant culture. 

Fellow celebrity-offspring Stephen Ira wrote out against Bono’s status as the premiere trans* spokesperson in U.S. mass culture. Ira addresses points raised by Valentine’s hypothetical: “[W]ho is included in ‘transgender’?” (37). Thanks to language similar to Bono’s, many gender-non-conforming and anti-normative trans* individuals “assumed that transgender could never refer to them.”

It’s especially important in pop representations of trans* folks to articulate intracategorical differences and the insecurity of gender identities. Otherwise, normative and exclusive language by transgender individuals about ‘transgender’ could redefine trans* to create space only for the assimilationist-minded.

⊗ Patrick beane

Ps Please forgive my transgressively belated post. I can’t write before the witching hour.

Valentine(s)

So, Valentine was trying to understand the the effects that the word transgendered has within society.  Through social construction theory, everything gains its meaning from social interaction regarding the concept. Transgender is a rather new term that has been imposed on the past.  Admittedly, the umbrella term does cover quite a few categories, including transsexual, transvestite, drag, genderqueer and others.  Some people were already known to be a part of some categories, like cross-dressers.  However, individuals who identify as homosexual are not included (generally). 

An embarrassing fact, Catfish: The TV Show is my favorite new reality show.  Essentially, for those who don’t know what it is, it is a show from MTV about online dating.  They find people who want to meet their online lovers, or long time romantic connections to make sure that they are who they say they are online.  Many times one individual is lying about themselves in some major way.  Within the show, the individuals meet and come clean, or are outed about whatever lies they had been telling.

Kya and Alyx were on recently.  Kya wanted to meet Alyx with whom she had been talking on a regular basis for quite some time.  Alyx was not completely honest about many things to Kya.  First his name is really Dani.  Another piece of information Dani is transgendered.  Kya was shocked, but didn’t mind that he was just starting the process of transition. 

I find it awesome that some of the shows do involve individuals who are trans.  One of the individuals was not trans identified even though she claimed to be when online.  However, I haven’t seen them all, but I’m not sure how many that do involve trans individuals. 

Here’s a link to the site where you can see the whole episodes.

http://www.mtv.com/shows/catfish/video.jhtml?filter=fulleps

Remember you can be anyone online, but you can be “catfished”.

-Stephanie Miller

Butch or FTM?

The difficulty in navigating the boundaries between transgender and homosexuality and the related boundaries between gender and sexuality that David Valentine discusses in his book, Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category is apparent in this clip from The L Word.  If you’re not familiar with the series, it aired between 2004 and 2009 on Showtime and throughout attempts to address difficult issues regarding gender and sexuality.

Here’s the link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euoOi7CUkkY#t=7m40s

One such theme on the show involves trans issues.  It creates a good representation of the conflict both within the chief trans character, Max, previously known as a very butch lesbian Moira, and also the conflict between Max and his tight-knit lesbian community that helped Moira come out of the closet.  As Valentine discusses, the boundaries are often not clear and may intersect.  While some lesbian characters on the show help Moira to realize and act upon her instincts to dress and act more masculine, others have a slight problem with it.  Sometimes her masculinity is interpreted as gayness, and sometimes it is taken for what it is – masculinity and identification with the masculine gender – and some people don’t know how to feel about it.

In this clip, for instance, Kit and Max have a confrontation regarding his own feelings about his gender and sexuality.  She asks him why he can’t be “the butchest butch in the in the world,” and Max responds saying that he simply wouldn’t feel whole.  Kit seems to be under the impression that Max should simply be a masculine lesbian, but in reality it is much more complicated than that for him.

Max’s own struggle with his gender identification is shown throughout the series.  We see that as a self-identified trans man, Max has issues fitting in both with men and with women.  In many ways, he is both male and female, and not male nor female.  He can relate to his straight female date’s feelings like most men would not be able to, and can pass as a man, but he is often the outsider regardless.

This is reflective of what Valentine says in his essay – that sometimes homosexuals are labeled as being transgender and sometimes it goes the other way around.  Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes people contradict themselves and make absolutely no sense at all.  This is because gender and sexuality are inextricably linked, and the boundaries between the two are very blurred.  Valentine says of the term transgender, “Indeed, that ‘transgender’ can stand as both a description of individual identity and simultaneously as a general term for gendered transgressions of many kinds makes it almost infinitely elastic” (39).  Overall, navigating the boundaries between society’s expectations and one’s own identity is a personal responsibility.  Tell us who you are, even if others confuse you, whether they mean well or not.

-Chrissy Goss

A Question of Prophets

By MK Worthington

Image

In Imagining Transgender, David Valentine challenges the notion of adopting historical figures and events as significant examples of “gay” or “transgender” history. The terms “homosexual” and “transgender” are relatively new. Their exact meanings, to a large extent, are still up for debate. Who fits into what category depends on whom you ask– and when you ask. Even within these two terms sub-categories exist and the list is ever growing, making it difficult to sort individuals into the complex system.

Some argue that same-sex attractions and partnerships and gender variances of many sorts have been around for as long as we have recorded history. The evidence is readily available. In fact, there are arguably even examples contained in the Holy Bible! For decades now Gay Rights activists have carefully sifted through history, digging up precious examples of homosexuality from every country and every period of time known to man. And now, with the emergence of Trans-activism, the same search is being made for historical transgender forerunners. The terminology may be new, but the characters that embody these identities have been around since the dawn of time, right?

Perhaps. But at different times and in different societies those relationships and identities (both what we call “homosexual” and “transgender”) have held various names and meanings, they were understood within a different context, and they bore a wide range of consequences quite different from what we see and experience today. And, inevitably, both homosexual and transgender historians lay claim to, and fight over, many of the same ‘heroes’. When analyzing figures that existed in a time before any real distinctions were being made overlaps are bound to occur. And, the truth is, it is impossible to say with absolute certainty that any historical figure would be an appropriate fit into any modern category.

 Is it fair then to look back over history at individuals and recorded instances and retroactively classify them as “homosexual” or “transgender” in nature?

It certainly isn’t a new idea to go back in time and appropriate figures in history as shining examples of a relatively new concept. One of my personal favorite examples of this is the adoption of the Old Testament and its prophets as founders of Christianity. By claiming ties to the ancient record, Christians assert their validity; their God has always been present and powerful…

One particular example of this phenomenon I consider highly notable is the deference given to Moses as portrayed in the Cecil B. DeMille film The Ten Commandments. The story of Moses, a Hebrew slave who is adopted into the Egyptian royal family and raised as a prince– a story of great historical significance within the Jewish faith– is popular among Christians as a defining story of the Christian faith as well. Never mind the fact that Jesus Christ plays no role whatsoever in the tale, the film is aired annually on television as special part of the Easter Sunday programming aimed at Christian viewers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adthgjXEKUc

The Old Testament is considered to be a record of the Word of the Hebrew God, its authors the prophets of that same God. A God Christians also claim, based on an understanding developed centuries later after the coming of Christ…

In both cases there are compelling arguments for assigning modern definitions to historical individuals and events… but more often than not, the arguments against such classifications are just as compelling.

-These have been the thoughts and opinions of MK Worthington (ME)

Transgender or Genderqueer

This week’s reading seeks to explain the label transgender as an umbrella term including “transexuals, transvestites, drag queens, drag kings, female or male impersonators , genderqueers, intersexuals, hermaphrodites…” (Valentine p.33). Transgender becomes an alternative for the gender binary of wholly male or wholly female. However, Valentine points out that by using transgender as an all-encompassing term we might “render the specificity of transsexual experience as invisible” (p. 34). Using transgender to explain any person who does not follow gender norms seems problematic to me, I feel genderqueer is a much more appropriate term. Those who are transgender and desire to live in a body not assigned them at birth are a specific population and should not just be erased or grouped in with non-normative genders and sexualities.

Further, we learn that younger genderqueers reject the term transgender because of its institutionalization (Valentine p. 34). At first glance one would agree, arguing that institutionalizing someone’s sexuality or gender is of no business to us. However after listening to a classmate speak on the unfortunate importance of institutionalization for transgender people to receive insurance for such surgeries, I understood the significance of its institutionalization. While it may not be ideal, transbodied people can take advantage of insurance coverage if their bodies are institutionalized.

Tgender.net lists all the treatments one must undergo to receive sex reassignment surgery – while some are seen as unnecessary or as blockades, insurance does cover them making the transition a tad bit more affordable. What this proves is that transgedered people are a specific group that should not just be lumped together with other non-comforming genders and sexes. I believe the term genderqueer is much better for an all encompassing non-normative group.

http://www.tgender.net/taw/tsins.html

 

Kathleen Hennessy

Trans: Distinction or Discrimination?

David Valentine posits that the origins of the term “transgender” surround a switch from queer self-identification within a marginalized community under the term “gay”  (43) to the distinction between the categories “gender” and “sexuality” (59), which created a way for self-identified gay-but-gender-normative individuals to assume a subtle superiority over gender non-conforming individuals by positing gay experience as private and thus justified and trans experience as public and thus subject to critique by mainstream society (64).  What fascinates me about his argument, then, is that gender normative gay individuals in this context propose the superiority of “gay” over “trans” while also shoving their own histories in gender transgressions beneath what we come to know as trans history. 

            Nowhere else do gender normative gay individuals claim a superiority over marginalized gender non-conforming groups than through the removal of homosexuality from and the addition of GID to the DSM (58).  While the language concerning transgender identification is changing in DSM 5, “gender dysphoria” will continue to exist in the DSM, which links transness to a psychological diagnosis.  Keeping gender dysphoria in the DSM keeps gender a public concern, while removing homosexuality from it enables sexuality to remain private (Valentine 64).  What strikes me the most from this, then, is the implicit assertion that while public displays of gender non-conformity are to be looked down upon publicly, private expressions of sexuality are to be forgotten or denied as something which heteronormative mainstream society refuses to deal with.  If sexuality, specifically queer sexuality, is relegated to the “private” sphere, then it is no longer able to be seen and thus no longer exists in the mainstream eye.  The word “private” is an excuse for mainstream society to refuse to deal with queer sexualities, and gender normative gay individuals somehow relish this claim to invisibility (Valentine 55) as a way to hide their “private” selves in order to fit in at the expense of widespread gender non-normative oppression both within and outside of LGB spaces.

            Gender normative gay individuals have an extraordinary audacity, then, to make claims on normality that alienate trans communities and relegate themselves to invisibility within mainstream spheres.  These claims on normality are so large that they extend to an elementary school-like exclusion of certain types of people from spaces based on transgressions of gender.  For instance, the term “lesbian” is so limiting that only a very small number of individuals can accurately categorize themselves under that identity label.  One not only has to be female-identified and female-bodied, but she also has to be attracted only to those who are also female-identified and female-bodied to be a lesbian.  This restriction exists so lesbians can hold onto the claim of normality and gender normativity within gay communities, which stigmatizes gender non-conforming communities. 

            A prime example of this kind of playground exclusion from lesbian spaces is the refusal by the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival to sell trans women tickets.  While an alternative festival option for trans women called Camp Trans happens every year across the street, refusing to let womyn into a womyn-only space just because a medical doctor did not assign them the letter F at birth should be unacceptable to a community that has been continuously marginalized by mainstream culture throughout the past century.  But this desire to be seen as “normal,” to be rendered invisible, silences those who would otherwise take a stand. 

            Blogger “Malic” for “The L Stop” posits that “marginalized communities can alienate their own,” and this MichFest debate marks one example of how the primarily gay and lesbian communities force any gender transgressors out of their space via any means necessary under any excuse necessary so they can appeal to normative mainstream culture.  For instance, Nancy Burkholder was forced to leave the Festival in 1991 because she was not anatomically female (Malic).  Some Festival-goers justify this and other forced removals with excuses that degrade trans women and imply their lack of “true” or “real” femaleness with remarks like, “the potential presence of a penis might be triggering” or “‘men in dresses’ [are] offensive to the feminist movement” (Malic). 

            The ironic part about all of this is that the “ancestors” of the gay and lesbian movements were both gender transgressors and gender conforming.  Valentine comments on the muddied history of which queer group instigated Stonewall as a way to show us that gay and lesbian history is not free from gender transgression, and that contemporary trans groups take all of the blows for the history that is just as much a part of gay and lesbian groups as it is trans groups (64).  This double injustice on the part of gay and lesbian individuals to cater to mainstream culture by excluding trans folks to claim normality and pointing fingers at trans groups for a shared history points to a resounding unfairness that should not continue to be ignored.  No matter where the word “transgender” came from, no one group deserves to be the laughing stock of what used to be a combined category just so another group can claim rights to “normality,” whatever that means anyway.

Malic’s post: http://thelstop.org/2011/07/are-all-%E2%80%9Cwomyn%E2%80%9D-welcome-michfest-and-the-struggle-for-trans-inclusion%E2%80%A8%E2%80%A8%E2%80%A8/

-Ash Kulak

The Economics of Gender Reassignment Surgery

Watching TrinidadI was struck by the way in which the rationale for communal tolerance of trans women in Trinidad was so often reduced to the money they poured into the town’s economy. Several times during the documentary, we hear resident testimonial that runs along these lines: it would be misled to treat visiting and resident trans women with anything less than a limited tolerance given the fact that they are the reason our hospital is still open. In other words, the establishment of Trinidad as the ‘sex change capital of the world’ has created a booming surgical niche market that is keeping the health care industry in Trinidad afloat (this, although one resident mentions that the hospital only receives $2,000 from each procedure, the pricetag of which floats somewhere around $20,000).

What’s striking to me about this repeated assertion is the notion that the town’s economic bottomline dictates the affective responses of the citizens. We accept you, but only if you’re financially contributing.  Trans tolerance (I’m pointedly not using the word “acceptance” here) has a price, in other words – and that price is somewhere in the ballpark of $20,000.

Which leads to another concern: the large out-of-pocket expense of transition, and genital reassignment surgery in particular.  The Human Rights Campaign, as part of their yearly Healthcare Equality Index, had 122 top medical providers fill out a survey that addressed LGBT healthcare issues – partner visitation rights, sensitivity trainings, and the like. Only 12 respondents out of these queerly enlightened 122 service providers offered trans-inclusive benefits to their employees.  That number, though, is significantly higher than in other industries. The HRC also publishes a Corporate Equality Index each year, with a special section on Transgender-Inclusive Benefits; the stats aren’t great. It turns out that, until the mid-1970s, genital reassignment surgery was often covered by insurance; then, as tsroadmap.com, an informational site for trans women, puts it,

 a couple of medical articles came out in the late 1970’s showing high suicide rates among post-operative women. This came at the same time a couple of prominent gender clinics were closed, notably Johns Hopkins. The insurance companies pounced on these events as a chance to decry the procedure as elective, cosmetic, or experimental. It’s been an uphill battle since.

It is precisely these arguments that the HRC document responds to, framing GRS as a physically and psychologically necessary procedure that is safe, well-researched, and quite well-developed (an art, as Dr. Marci Bowers puts it).

The Jim Collins Foundation, a non-profit that assists trans folks in paying for gender-confirming medical procedures,  has been established in order to fill the gaps in insurance coverage; this effort, while enormously well-intentioned and important, is not a big enough band-aid, I suspect. The real issues are employment discrimination and insurance discrimination.  What matters is having enough money to pay for gender confirming procedures, having stable employment throughout transition, and having coverage that understands gender-confirming procedures as integral to health in a holistic sense; even limited research into the economic status of trans subjects reveals markedly high rates of poverty and financial instability.

So how do we begin to ameliorate this situation? What other efforts are currently underway to address this web of medico-socio-economic injustice?  Consider these general questions for the course.

 

– Hilary Malatino